September 24, 2017

Where Did I Come From? Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

DNA ethnicity estimates are fun conversation-starters. But the “pie charts” become more meaningful genealogically when you can assign timelines to the places your ancestors were from. Here’s an update to our ongoing conversation about what DNA ethnicity results really mean.

Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Where did I come from? This is a fundamental human question, and it is driving millions of individuals all over the world to have their DNA tested. We genealogists would like to think that they are being tested to aid their family history efforts, or to connect with us, their cousins. But they aren’t. They are after that pretty pie chart that tells them what percentage of themselves came from where.

Now, I know you have heard me say that these kinds of results are just for fun, and don’t hold much genealogical value. But due to some interesting developments in the world of DNA, my previous assertions of these ethnic origins results being somehow second class to our match list might be changing.

Living DNA and DNA Ethnicity Results

A U.K. company called Living DNA launched their DNA product in the fall of 2016. Right now, all they are focusing on is reporting ethnic origins information. But they are doing it in a manner that changes the way we look at our DNA ethnicity results.

In addition to the standard map that you will see at any genetic genealogy company, Living DNA also offers a tool they call “Through History.” It literally takes you step-by-step back in time to show you how similar your DNA is to others on earth during 11 time periods ranging from 1,000 years ago to 80,000 years ago! In the images shown below, we see a glimpse into my earliest time period, a peek at the middle, and a view of the last. The intensity of the blue on the chart tells you how genetically similar I am to the people in that area.

In the first chart shown here, you can see that since I am 100% European, I share DNA with, well, people from Europe:

But, if we go back not very far, I am sharing DNA with people in the Middle East and Russia, as shown in the second map:

As my DNA marches further back in time I can see that I am sharing that DNA with people in a variety of locations until we get back to the beginning of man, and I am sharing DNA with literally everyone in the world.

DNA Ethnicity Estimates Over Time

So, how does this work from a DNA standpoint? Well, the fact is, not all DNA markers are created equally. Some markers have developed relatively recently on our timeline making them helpful for determining recent relationships and modern populations. Others have been around longer, linking us to early settlers of Europe or even Asia. Still others link us together as a human race and help to track our origins back to a single time and place.

Part of the struggle that these DNA testing companies have is trying to figure out the time and place for each of the markers they test. Certainly part of the puzzle is the ability to look not just at modern day populations, but ancient populations.

You may have heard of some recent reports that scientists have completed DNA testing on ancient remains. One example came from Ireland where they were able to determine that one body tested had ancestry in the Middle East, and another had roots in Russia. It is the combined efforts of both ancient DNA testing and your own modern samples that unite to help us improve our understanding of our own personal origins, as well help us understand how humankind developed and evolved.

3 Ways to Better Understand Your DNA Ethnicity Estimates

To get the most out of your genetic genealogy populations report, you may want to:

  1. View your results in the context of a more historical timeline, as opposed to your own genealogical timeline.
  2. Try testing at multiple companies (you can transfer into Family Tree DNA from 23andMe or AncestryDNA for only $19. Click here to see recent updates to Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity categories.)
  3. Give the multiple population tools at Gedmatch a try, just to get a better feel for how different companies and tools can provide us a different look at the populations we are carrying around in our DNA. My quick guide for using Gedmatch, shown here, is available as a printed guide or digital download.

Keep Reading about DNA Ethnicity Estimates

“Results May Vary:” One Family’s DNA Ethnicity Percentages

Gedmatch: A Free Tool for Your DNA Results and Genealogy

New DNA Ethnicity Charts: Display Your Heritage

How to Upgrade Your DNA Test with Your DNA Guide

When it comes to chocolate my general rule of thumb is that more is usually better! The same is true with DNA testing. With this big DNA test upgrade sale, now is the perfect time to get MORE! I love being Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems, and today I’ll walk you through how to get the best deal and the right tests. Take my hand, and let’s get upgrading!

more is better with dna

Diahan SouthardThis month, Family Tree DNA is running this Family Tree DNA’s Friends & Family sale, which means that all of the kits and upgrades are on sale! This sale is the perfect time to upgrade your DNA tests. (By clicking our link above you are supporting the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and we will receive compensation from the affiliate link. Thank you!)

Once in your account, click the Upgrade button. In very basic terms, to Upgrade means that they are going to go back to your DNA sample that they have on file, and do more testing.

upgrade your DNA test

Depending on the tests you have already had completed at Family Tree DNA, you will see several different options in the Upgrade menu. Most of you will see this box, listing the option to do more advanced testing, find gene variants, or order certificates.

upgrade your DNA test 02

If you’re testing for general genealogy purposes, you can most likely ignore all of those options. The advanced testing is aptly named as it is only for very specific, very, advanced problems. The gene variant report can be interesting, but you can get a similar report for only $5 from Promethease.com. As for the certificates, that is up to you. It is a printed report of your DNA values for either your YDNA or your mtDNA test. These are nice to give to relatives that have tested for you that might want something tangible to hold as evidence of their participation in your genetic genealogy efforts.

The last option in this box is to have a personalized report written. This will be several pages of information about the DNA testing you have had completed, but don’t expect them to find your ancestors or do much interpretation of the results.

Beyond those options, if you have not had mitochondrial DNA testing completed, or if you have only had the lower mtDNAPlus test completed, you will see options to evaluate your mtDNA. If you are going to try to do family history with your mtDNA test, you need to have the Full Sequence test completed. For the most part, using mtDNA in your family history won’t get you very far, but it is a good record of your direct maternal line.

ftdna tests

If you are a man with the YDNA test, you will also see options to upgrade your YDNA test to a higher number of markers. You will want to upgrade from 37 to 67 or 111 if you have other matches on your match page who have also tested at those higher levels and you would like to get a better comparison. You can check to see if they have tested at a higher level by looking at your match page under their name. In general, the 67 marker test will help you better decide if you are or are not related to someone, while the 111 marker test will help you better determine how you are related to known connections on your match list.

upgrade your DNA test04

If you have not yet taken the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA, that option will present itself as well. If the person tested is still available for testing, you should actually start their autosomal DNA testing experience with AncestryDNA, then transfer for free into their FTDNA account. If your family member is deceased, then you can get permission from their closest living relative, or whoever is administrating their account, to have them tested on the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA.

So remember my general rule of thumb when it comes to chocolate and DNA testing, more is usually better. Click here to shop the Family Tree DNA Friends & Family Sale! *Sale ends 8/31/17. Standard shipping rates apply.

Get more help with my quick guide: Understanding Family Tree DNA.

Adoptee DNA Test Leads to Emotional Mother-Daughter Reunion

Years after a 15-year old mother put her baby girl up for adoption, the two reunited after both tested with MyHeritage DNA. See how an adoptee DNA test led to a sweet reunion.

Moms come in all shapes and sizes, and all have different stories. Sometimes, those stories include great self-sacrifice that ensures the best future possible for a child. That’s the case with this story that I want to share with you today. It’s a very special mother-daughter reunion which was covered recently by ABC15 in Mesa, Arizona.

As a 15-year-old, Robin Passey made the brave decision to put her baby daughter up for adoption to a loving family. Even though she knew it was in her child’s best interest, the decision understandably left a longing in her heart. Like many adoptive moms, Robin wondered how her daughter was doing, what she looked like, and if she was happy. That longing was filled thanks to the latest genetic genealogy technology available. Through a bit of genealogical serendipity, Robin and her biological daughter Becky both tested with MyHeritage DNA, and started a new chapter in their lives.

Watch their story and happy reunion:

More and more stories like theirs are appearing in news outlets, on blogs and in social media posts around the world. I find it deeply moving that who we are genetically–how we are connected–is literally encoded within us on such a fundamental biological level.

Learn more about MyHeritage DNA here at their website. 

We can help you with your own DNA testing journey, whether you’re an adoptee or just looking to learn more about your family. Start with these essential posts:

Getting Started with DNA Testing

DNA Testing for Adoptees: 5 Must-Read Tips by Genetic Genealogy Experts

 

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you for supporting the Genealogy Gems blog!)

Why Your Genetic Family Tree Is Not the Same as Your Family Tree

Your genetic family tree is not the same as your genealogical pedigree–and not just because of non-paternity events and adoption. Here’s how.

Genetic vs Genealogcial CousinsYour genealogical pedigree, if you are diligent or lucky (or both!) can contain hundreds, even thousands of names and can go back countless generations. You can include as many collateral lines as you want. You can add several sources to your findings, and these days you can even add media, including pictures and copies of the actual documents. Every time someone gets married or welcomes a new baby, you can add that to your chart. In short, there is no end to the amount of information that can make up your pedigree chart.

Not so for your genetic pedigree.

Your genetic pedigree contains only those ancestors for whom you have received some of their DNA. You do not have DNA from all of your ancestors.

You do not have DNA from all of your ancestors.

Using some fancy math we can calculate that the average generation in which you start to see that you have inherited zero blocks of DNA from an ancestor is about seven. But of course, most of us aren’t trying to figure out how much of our DNA we received from great great great grandma Sarah. Most of us just have a list of DNA matches and we are trying to figure out if we are all related to 3X great grandma Sarah. So how does that work?

Well, the first thing we need to recognize is that living descendants of Sarah’s would generally be our fourth cousins. Again, bring in the fancy math and we can learn that living, documented fourth cousins who have this autosomal DNA test completed will only share DNA with each other 50% of the time.

Yes, only half.

Only half of the time your DNA will tell you what your paper trail might have already figured out: that you and cousin Jim are fourth cousins, related through sweet 3X great grandma Sarah.

DNA cousinsBut here’s where the numbers are in our favor. You have, on average, 940 fourth cousins. So if you are only sharing DNA with 470 of them, that’s not quite so bad, is it? And it only takes one or two of them to be tested and show up on your match list. Their presence there, and their documentation back to sweet Sarah, helps to verify the genealogy you have completed. It also allows you to gather others who might share this connection so you can learn even more about Sarah and her family. Plus, if you find Jim, then Jim will have 470 4th cousins as well, some of which will not be on your list, giving you access to even more of the 940.

This genetic family tree not matching up exactly with your traditional family tree also manifests itself in your ethnicity results, though there are other reasons for discrepancies there as well. Read this article to learn more about why ethnicity results may not match.

In short, this DNA stuff is not a stand alone tool, but if you combine it with your traditional resources, it can be a very powerful tool for verifying and extending your family history. Remember, just because a cousin doesn’t show a match in DNA, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a genealogical connection! Genealogical research and primary sources can still prove connections even if DNA doesn’t show it.

Ready to learn more?

Read your dna guide at Genealogy GemsMy goals as Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems is to help you get the most from your DNA testing efforts, and to make it fun and easy-to-understand along the way. I’ve got more DNA articles for you. Check these out:

23andMe blog post: “How Many Relatives Do You Have?”

“How Much of Your Genome Do You Inherit from a Particular Ancestor?”

Listen to Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Catherine Ball, on how your DNA and pedigree chart can work together to reveal your family’s migration story:

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 202.

 

Give the Gift of DNA this Mother’s Day or Father’s Day

$20 off 23andMe DNA kits
(Ancestry service now $79, Ancestry+Health now $179)
No coupon code needed, just use this link.
Free gift wrap, limit 2 kits
Sale ends 5/14/17
(order by 5/7/17 to arrive in time for Mother’s Day)

Family Tree DNA Ethnicity Report Gets an Update

The Family Tree DNA ethnicity report has been updated, and this means more details about ethnic and geographic origins for both autosomal and mtDNA DNA testers.

Family Tree DNA myOrigins screen shot lead image

Family Tree DNA recently announced a round of updates to myOrigins, its mapping tool for ethnic and geographic ancestry. New are more detailed breakdowns of their population clusters and in-depth descriptions of them. (Visit Family Tree DNA’s website here.)

It is so exciting to see new or updated reports from our genetic genealogy testing companies! It is a good reminder of two things: First, that the results we currently have, especially in the arena of our ethnicity results, will continually be improving. Second, that once you test with any company, these improvements are added to your account and your results are updated automatically.

Family Tree DNA is the only company offering a complete look at your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the one that traces your direct maternal line. They recently updated the deep ancestral assignments for these mtDNA tests. The updates were based on scientific advances in the world of mtDNA and can sometimes give you a more specific idea of where your ancestral line came from.

In addition to the mtDNA updates, FTDNA has also updated their MyOrigins results as part of your autosomal DNA test. Previously your MyOrigins results broke up the world into 18 different pieces and you were told your affiliation with each. Now with 6 new populations added, there are a total of 24. The changes include splitting three categories into smaller parts, like they are now reporting Finland separate from Siberia, as well as adding three new categories in South America, West Middle East, and Oceania.

Your MyOrigins results will now also include trace amounts, which are those percentages that are very low and therefore do not carry a high confidence. But many genetic genealogists wanted to see any area that may have been detected, and so FTDNA responded.

How to Review Your Family Tree DNA Ethnicity Report

1. Log in to your Family Tree DNA account. From your dashboard, select myOrigins.

2. On the myOrigins page, click View all to see your full ethnic percentages, as defined by Family Tree DNA. You can also click View myOrigins map to see your results mapped out. (The map looks like the one at the beginning of this post.)

3. When you click to view all your ethnicity results, you’ll see a more detailed breakdown of your population groups. Click View all population descriptions to read more about each one.

The Impact of Updated Family Tree DNA Ethnicity Reports

On the whole, are these updated results going to significantly impact your family history research if you have tested at Family Tree DNA? Likely not. The greater impact is just in the idea that these things can be improved, updated, and changed, which means our experience will continue to improve, and more people are likely to test. More people in the database means more possible cousins. More possible cousins means more genealogy breakthroughs, and a more complete picture of our heritage, and that is what we are really all after.

Learn More About DNA Testing for Genealogy

Click here to see individual guides for topics I talked about above, such as testing at Family Tree DNA, testing your autosomal or mitochondrial DNA and getting started (in which I explain ethnicity results). Or click here for the ultimate Genetic Genealogy Jumbo Pack: ALL 10 of my guides PLUS my video class, “Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy.”

Adoption DNA Match Strategy: Combine DNA Test Types

Combining DNA test types can give you a better picture of your overall genealogical relationship to someone else. Combine your autosomal test results with the results of your mitochondrial DNA or YDNA test to make some amazing connections today!

combining DNA test types

My family recently visited the Jelly Belly Factory in northern California. Of course at the end of the tour, they funneled us into their gift shop where we felt compelled to buy jelly beans and other sundry treats. My favorite part of the big box we bought were the recipes on the side. We could turn the already delicious variety of flavors into even more pallet-pleasing options. Who knew!

This got me thinking about DNA, of course!

Combining DNA Test Types

Specifically, I was thinking about the power of combining multiple test types to get a better picture of our overall genealogical relationship to someone else.

If you recall, there are three kinds of DNA tests available for genealogists: autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and Y chromosome DNA (YDNA). Much of the focus these days is on how to use the autosomal DNA in our family history research. This may be because the autosomal DNA covers both sides of your family tree, so it is seen as a catchall for our family history. While it is a very powerful tool for our research, it can also be a bit overwhelming to try to determine how you are related to someone else.

Let’s look at an example from my own family history. My mom matched with Tom at 23andMe. Their predicted genealogical relationship, based on how much DNA they shared, was second cousins. To begin, we need to understand which ancestor could be shared by people who are genetic second cousins. To figure it out, you can count backwards like this: people who share parents are siblings, sharing grandparents makes you first cousins, and sharing great-grandparents makes you second cousins.

matches for combining DNA test types

Image credit: Diahan Southard.

So, if my mom and Tom are true second cousins (meaning there aren’t any of those once-removed situations going on, but that’s a subject for another time), then we should be able to find their common ancestor among their great-grandparents.

Each of us has eight great-grandparents. Because we can’t usually narrow down shared DNA to a single person, but rather to an ancestral couple, we are really just looking at four possible ancestral couple connections between my mom and Tom. My mom doesn’t have any known ancestors, as she was adopted, so we can only evaluate Tom’s line. Tom was kind enough to share his pedigree chart with us, and he had all four of his couples listed. But how do we know which one is the shared couple with my mom?

Narrowing Down the Results

Now, for those of you without an adoption, you will have some other clues to help you figure out which of the four (or eight, if you are looking at a third cousin, or 16 if you are looking at a fourth cousin) ancestral couples is shared between you and your match. Start by looking for shared surnames. If that comes up short, evaluate each couple by location. If you see an ancestral couple who is in a similar location to your line, then that couple becomes your most likely connecting point. What then? Do genealogy!! Find out everything you can about that couple and their descendants to see if you can connect that line to your own.

However in my mom’s case, we didn’t have any surnames or locations to narrow down which ancestral couple was the connection point between our line and Tom’s. But even if we had locations, that may not have helped as Tom is very homogenous! All of his ancestors were from the same place! But, we did have one very important clue: the mitochondrial DNA. Remember mtDNA traces a direct maternal line. So my mom’s mtDNA is the same as her mom’s, which is the same as her mom’s etc.

At 23andMe they don’t test the full mitochondrial DNA sequence (FMS) like they do at Family Tree DNA. For family history purposes, you really want the FMS to help you narrow down your maternal line connection to others. But 23andMe does provide your haplogroup, or deep ancestral group. These groups are named with a letter/number combination. My mom is W1 and we noticed that Tom is also W1.

combining DNA test types on pedigreeThis meant that my mom and Tom share a direct maternal line – or put another way, Tom’s mother’s mother’s mother was the same as my mom’s mother’s mother’s mother. That means there is only one couple out of the four possible couples that could connect my mom to Tom: his direct maternal line ancestor Marianna Huck, and her husband Michael Wetzstien.

Now you can only perform this wondrous feat if you and your match have both tested at 23andMe, or have both taken the mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA.

Just as a Popcorn Jelly Belly plus two Blueberry Jelly Bellies makes a blueberry muffin, combining your autosomal DNA test results with your mtDNA test results (or YDNA for that matter) can yield some interesting connections that just might break down that family history brick wall.

combing DNA test resultsLearn more about DNA test types with these helpful guides:

Don’t go it alone with DNA. My quick reference guides will guide you through the process in easy to understand language. You’ll get more out of your DNA test results with these guides:

FDA Authorizes Genetic Health Risk Tests by 23andMe

If you have ever wondered if you or your loved ones are at higher risk for diseases such as Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, read on to learn about big changes that are happeningHealth history is just one of the ways in which genealogy research can benefit your family.

Genetic Health Risk Test
According to a recent FDA press release, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today allowed marketing of 23andMe Personal Genome Service Genetic Health Risk (GHR) tests for 10 diseases or conditions. These are the first direct-to-consumer (DTC) tests authorized by the FDA that provide information on an individual’s genetic predisposition to certain medical diseases or conditions, which may help to make decisions about lifestyle choices or to inform discussions with a health care professional.”

The release goes on to say:

Consumers can now have direct access to certain genetic risk information,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “But it is important that people understand that genetic risk is just one piece of the bigger puzzle, it does not mean they will or won’t ultimately develop a disease.”

The GHR tests are intended to provide genetic risk information to consumers, but the tests cannot determine a person’s overall risk of developing a disease or condition. In addition to the presence of certain genetic variants, there are many factors that contribute to the development of a health condition, including environmental and lifestyle factors.

The 23andMe GHR tests work by isolating DNA from a saliva sample, which is then tested for more than 500,000 genetic variants. The presence or absence of some of these variants is associated with an increased risk for developing any one of the following 10 diseases or conditions:

You can read the complete article called FDA allows marketing of first direct-to-consumer tests that provide genetic risk information for certain conditions here.

DiahanSouthard genetic genealogyFDA and 23andMe – Comments from Your DNA Guide

I look to Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard for all things genetic genealogy, and here’s what she had to say about the recent news:

23andMe is certainly the outlier among our genetic genealogy companies. It is different because its purpose is not necessarily to help you find your ancestors or determine your ethnic composition, though it can do both, but their goal is to empower your personal health.

In November of 2013 the FDA ordered 23andMe to retract all health reporting from their website in order to better regulate the dissemination of health related information to consumers. 23andMe has slowly crawled back toward that same reporting structure, all the while jumping through the compliant hoops that the FDA has set up.

Now this week they have had a major step forward as they have been able to release the risk assessment for 10 major diseases including Parkinson’s and celiac. This is the first such test available direct to consumers, without first going to your doctor.

This is likely the first of many such developments as 23andMe works to make our own health more accessible via our genetics. If you do pursue this kind of evaluation, it is important to keep in mind the words of Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, “…genetic risk is just one piece of the bigger puzzle, it does not mean they will or won’t ultimately develop a disease.”

Learn More About 23andMe

As with all genetic testing, it’s your decision in the end, so be as informed as you can. Diahan’s quick reference guide Understanding 23andMe (a Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist) will help you tap into the company’s services from a genealogical perspective. Over 1 million people have had their DNA evaluated by 23andMe. This website has powerful family history tools and this guide will answer the most pressing questions like:

  • How can I control how much information is being shared with others?
  • How can I enter my genealogical information?
  • How do I know when I have a good match?
  • Is the YDNA and mtDNA information they give the same as what I see at other places?
  • What is the best way to use the ethnicity results presented?

 

Why You Should Contact Your DNA Matches: “Now I’m Climbing a Whole Different Tree!”

Trying to contact your DNA matches can be frustrating when they don’t respond, but it’s still worth reaching out to them. This researcher’s example shows a good reason why.

contact DNA matches

Contact Your DNA Matches

Recently, I heard from Genealogy Gems Premium website member Ruth*, whose DNA success story reminds me of the value of reaching out to DNA matches, even if the general response rate is low or slow. She says:

“I’ve been researching my family tree for over 20 years and sometimes it can get boring…because most of the lines are pretty much out as far as I can go and I’m now just working on brick walls! I love listening to your podcast because it motivates me to keep going!

Like many of your listeners, I have taken the autosomal DNA test. It has been an awesome tool helping me confirm family lines and sometimes finding new ones. However, I’m sure most of your readers know that for some reason a lot of those DNA matches and even tree owners in general, do not respond to emails or messages. It can be very frustrating, especially if it is one of those lines that you really could use some help on. The lack of response to inquiries sometimes makes me wonder if I should even try to make contact. Well, I want to tell your listeners, that yes it is worth it.

Recently, I was browsing trees and I came to a tree that listed my 3rd great-grandfather Daniel Cannon; however, this tree listed Daniel’s wife as Mary Ann Watkins and I had her as Mary Ann Cook! Well, I decided to contact the owner of that tree and explained I had Daniel’s wife as a Cook. The two of us started emailing back and forth and I found out this gentleman, whose last name is Watkins, had taken a DNA test and was in Ancestry.com’s database.

Sure enough, when I searched my mom’s matches I found him. Mr. Watkins shared the information he had [which was] an excerpt that listed the heirs of G. B. Watkins and Elizabeth Smith. On that list was Mary Ann Constable. From the census records, I knew that Mary Ann Cannon had married Thomas Constable after her husband had died. The marriage license for Mary Ann Cannon and Thomas Constable is no longer at the courthouse, but I was able to get a copy of the excerpt of the book it was recorded in. So now I’m climbing a whole different tree!

So, go ahead and reach out to those matches or those people who have trees with different information from you. You never know when you’ll find information and end up with a new line to research!”

Time to Maximize Your DNA Matches

Our resident genetic genealogist, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard, has written a series of 3 DNA quick guides to help you maximize your DNA testing experience:

This “value pack” can help you sort your matches more wisely, reach out to them in a positive way, and track your correspondence. Click here to read more about these guides and order your own. (Also available as digital downloads.)

Time to Test Your DNA Today

These companies all provide autosomal DNA testing, the most popular kind of DNA testing, and the kind Ruth used. Autosomal testing matches you to genetic relatives on both sides of your family tree to a depth of about 4-6 generations. Learn a little about each by clicking on the names below.

Ancestry DNA

MyHeritage DNA

23andMe

FamilyTreeDNA

*Ruth’s letter was erroneously attributed to Liz when it was shared and discussed in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 200. Sorry for the mix-up!

Family Migration Patterns Just Got a Big Bump with DNA!

Do you need help solving your family migration patterns? A groundbreaking new scientific study uses DNA and family trees to map migration routes across North America.

Family Migration Patterns Revealed in Genomes

A new study published in Nature Communications represents a ground-breaking development in using DNA for genealogy. The article from the AncestryDNA Scientific Team is titled Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America. Or, in more understandable terms, “Your DNA can tell us where you came from in America in the last 500 years.”

Wow, right? So, how did they do this?

The power really is in the numbers. In this particular paper, they started with using their autosomal DNA test on 770,000 people. Some of them were AncestryDNA customers who had consented to be part of the research. From these 770,000, they learned quite a bit about the migration patterns of early Americans. As Ancestry analyzes more individuals using these same principles of correlating genetics and genealogy, this data will improve and be able to tell us even more about our heritage. Even though it takes a large data set to figure out the relationship between our DNA and migration patterns, it really comes down to the relationship of two people.

To start, Ancestry determines how just two people are genetically related. Then, they find how those two are related to a third person, again, looking only at pairs of people. This goes on and on until everyone in the group as been compared. They use a graph to plot those relationships, with those more closely related clustering around each other.  And then it happens. The point where we see the marriage of genetics and genealogy suddenly appear by adding in the family history information for each of these individuals in the cluster.

What they found was astounding. They have displayed the data in Figure 3 shown below. It is a map of the United States with colored dots scattered across the landscape. The location of the dots corresponds to the genealogy of those tested, while the color of the dots relates to their genetic clustering. Those who cluster closest together are the same color. The result is a nearly perfect rainbow, with each color holding its respective spot on the map, with very little overlap between groups.

Distribution of ancestral birth locations in North America. Summary map from Nature Communications; click to see article with full explanation of map data. Image used with permission of Ancestry.com.

We might be tempted when looking at the map to think, oh, well, of course there is a large population of European Jews in New York, everyone knows that. But this isn’t their family history, their accent, or their culture telling us this – it is their genetics!

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the scientists describe how we can trace family migration patterns of different groups over just a few generations. They specifically mention French Canadians and Cajuns/Acadians, but the same principle can theoretically be applied to dozens of other groups.

Family Migration Patterns and Applying these Findings

So what does this mean for you as a genealogist?

It means we are getting closer than ever to being able to tell who you are and where you came from using your DNA.

For example, let’s say you have an ancestor in Texas about 4 generations ago, but you aren’t sure where she came from. Your DNA could tell you that you fit into the Lower South group, meaning that your ancestor likely hails from the south. Or, maybe your genetics identify with the Upland South, which means you need to explore records from Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

This is just a glimpse into the advances that genetics are bringing to your genealogy toolbox these days. So it’s high time to go “all in” to learn about genetic genealogy! We recommend The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine Bettinger. You’ll love this book if:

  • You’ve got brick walls that traditional research methods haven’t been able to break down
  • You want to take advantage of the hottest tool in genealogy
  • You’ve already taken a DNA test and want to know what comes next

Use our GEMS17 coupon code when you click on the book title or image and get 10% off (even if it’s on sale already!) The code is valid through 12/31/17.

GEDmatch: A Free Tool for Your DNA Results and Genealogy

 

The genetic genealogy community has a crush. A big one. Everyone is talking about it. “It has such great features,” says one. “It has a chromosome browser!” exclaims another. “It’s FREE!” they all shout. What’s all the hype about? GEDmatch.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch is a mostly free online tool where anyone with autosomal DNA test results from 23andMe, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA can meet and share information. All you need to do is download your data from your testing company and upload it into your newly created GEDmatch account.

GEDmatch Set-up

gedmatch-find-matchesGEDmatch is set up just like your testing company and provides two kinds of reports: ethnicity results and a match list. Remember, ethnicity results, meaning those pie charts that report you are 15% Italian and 32% Irish, are based on two factors: a reference population and fancy math. GEDmatch has gathered data from multiple academic sources to provide you with several different iterations of ethnicity reports. This is like getting a second (and third and fourth, etc) opinion on a science that is still emerging. It is a fun exercise, but will likely not impact your genealogy research very much.

The more important match list does allow you to see genetic cousins who have tested at other companies. Of course, only those who have downloaded their results and entered them into GEDmatch will show up on your list. This means GEDmatch has the potential to expand your pool of genetic cousins, increasing your chances of finding someone to help you track down that missing ancestor.

Many also flock to GEDmatch because they were tested at AncestryDNA and so do not have access to a chromosome browser. A chromosome browser allows you to visualize the physical locations that you share with someone else (see below). Some find this a helpful tool when analyzing their DNA matches, though in my opinion, it is not essential.

dna3GEDmatch also has some great genealogy features that let you analyze your pedigree against someone else’s, as well as the ability to search all the pedigree charts in their system so you can look specifically for a descendant of a particular relative. However, even with all of these great features, GEDmatch is still yet another website you have to navigate. With that, there will be a learning curve and certainly some frustration.

GEDMatch or Not?

So, is it worth it? If you are fairly comfortable with the website where you were tested, and you are feeling both curious and patient, I say go for it!

It’s too much to tell you right this minute how to download your data from your testing site and upload it to GEDmatch, but you’re in luck! I’ve put step-by-step instructions for getting started in a free tutorial on my website at www.yourDNAguide.com/transferring.

After you’ve done the upload, you may need a little bit more help to navigate the GEDmatch site because there are so many great tools on it. I recently published a GEDmatch Quick Guide, where I have condensed into four pages the most essential features of GEDmatch to get you started and help you make use of this tool for genetic genealogy. Using my guide is an inexpensive and easy way to get a lot more out of a free online resource. I will also be adding more GEDmatch tutorials to my online tutorial series later this fall. Genealogy Gems fans get a nice discount on these! (Click here for that discount).

By the way, have you tried GEDmatch? I would love to hear about your experiences. You can email me at guide@yourDNAguide.com.

DNA QUICK GUIDE BUNDLES

Advanced DNA Quick Guide Bundle by Diahan Southard which includes:

  • GEDmatch: A Next Step for your Autosomal DNA Test
  • Organizing Your DNA Matches: A Companion Guide
  • Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches

SUPER DNA Quick Guide Bundle by Diahan Southard with ALL 10 Guides

  • Getting Started: Genetics for the Genealogist
  • Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
  • Mitochondrial DNA for the Genealogist
  • Y Chromosome DNA for the Genealogist

and Testing Companies:

  • Understanding Ancestry: A Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
  • Understanding Family Tree DNA: A Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
  • Understanding 23 and Me: A Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist

and Advanced Tools

  • Next Steps: Working With Your Autosomal DNA Matches
  • Organzing Your DNA Matches
  • GEDmatch: A Next Step for Your Autosomal DNA Test